PRomotional tours: a PRoblem?

Professor Marek Fuchs

Professor Marek Fuchs

Like other organizations, colleges and universities depend upon good public relations and marketing campaigns to build and maintain positive images.  A primary goal of such campaigns is to recruit new students, essential to the existence of every academic institution.  As every college student and high school junior knows, colleges spend a lot of money on printed materials, web sites and social media, plus ubiquitous open house events at which visitors see the campus and hear “the spiel.”

My PR pal and adjunct professor at Hofstra University, Bert Cunningham, likes to bring PR stories to my attention.  This week Professor Cunningham shared an article in the Wall Street Journal by Marek Fuchs titled, “Oh, No, Not Another College Tour!” which focuses on (from his perspective) the mistakes colleges and universities typically make during spring’s “open house” season. He believes institutions miss opportunities to answer real questions and concerns, because group tours tend to focus on showcasing the school’s superficial positives such as ample library hours, dining options, the landscaping, and environmental consciousness while being conducted by well-rehearsed, well-scrubbed student guides.

But is this such a bad thing?  If the purpose of an open house is to convince potential students and their parents or guardians of the school’s virtues, then why not put their best foot forward and highlight all things positive?  Fuchs, a writing professor at Sarah Lawrence College, said, “But it does seem that with so much depending on the outcome of their pitch, colleges should put more original effort into the standard-issue, plain (fat-free) vanilla tour.”  He suggests separate tours for parents and students to create a more free exchange of ideas and questions, night tours since so much campus life goes on after hours, anonymous questions so no one holds anything back, and untrained random student tour guides (which is a terrible idea!).

I believe most institutions already encourage the kinds of exchanges Fuchs is recommending.  And parents and potential students should gravitate to those schools which create a comfortable environment for asking questions.  That’s just good PR.  Your thoughts?

42 thoughts on “PRomotional tours: a PRoblem?

  1. David Salomon

    I agree to a certain extent with Marek Fuchs. Me personally, I was never fond of college tours. I learned more about the college from just walking around by myself and talking to current students. Everyone has different preferences. for example I am into sports so i like to look at the sports facilities and the sports teams. Another student may be into the arts and would like to look at the theaters and art rooms on campus and speak to students that are in the arts program. Pre-rehearsed campus tours should be left to the parents not not potential students.

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  2. sfoley62014

    Tours in colleges to me seemed corny and not authentic. I think it is great that we highlight aspects that make our school great, but realistically its not how the school is run and organized. And I was one of those kids who asked lots of questions and during college tours I asked the questions that no one wanted to answer cause it was not showcasing the best of the school.

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  3. tryreadingbetweenthelines

    I will speak from experience here, when I was a senior in High School, all college tours seemed scripted and not genuine. Of course there are things that college campuses don’t want to tell you (such as there’s a robbery every other week here at Hofstra) but maybe they should have a sleep over night or something of the sort. Have them discover Hofstra on their own by mingling with regular students. Pride guides have set guidelines to follow and never really show the true colors.

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  4. Colin Sullivan

    After attending several college visits, through both private and group tours, I think there is a place/need for both. Different types of students and families respond to different information AND different styles of delivery. Some may need to be in a group setting to be able to open up, and adversely others need one on one opportunities. The only way to ensure that a university’s or college’s open houses are successful is to offer diversity in style, and continually gather feedback to analyze the organizations current approach.

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  5. akof123

    To be honest I do not see anything wrong with only showcasing the positive of a university tour. The purpose of a university open house is to showcase the positive and try and get the students to want to attend the university. If students want to know the “bad” stuff about universities then it is up to them to take the initiative to look at online forums or ask students in passing more juicy questions.

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  6. stephleal

    I have never been on a campus tour before, so its hard for me to form an opinion. However I agree that there should be trained students to give the school tour perhaps with a mixture of volunteer students, to answer unfiltered questions asked by parents and students interested in the school. With this mixture they can get to know about the school in more depth. Personally, I was never interested in going to one because I always felt like the information that was provided I could get from the website and brochures. There are other factors that influenced my opinion, I was never interested in the resident life perhaps if I was, I would have attended a school tour.

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  7. Alexandria Alicea

    Every student expects the very cookie cutter version of a college tour, so I don’t necesarily think that they should be changed. They are affective enough to showcase the university or college and honestly show the students and parents what they are paying for. I do however think that every college/university should offer an orientation or over-night stay for all students interested. Most places only allow for admitted students to do so, but I think that this would give a much more honest touch for the parents and students.

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  8. Nyala Stagger

    I agree that campus tours are very vanilla and if you’ve been on one, you’ve practically been on them all of them. Besides walking around a school, the best way for visitors and prospective students to find out more about a university is to ask current students about their courses and work load. However, are campus tours awful? I don’t think so. They may tell the students about superficial things but those superficial things can become very important when it comes to picking a final choice for school. I think that schools should continue to offer them, but also provide alternative tours that allow students to see what it would be like to go to that particular school.

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  9. Samantha

    I went on a few college tours as a high school student and as a college sophomore looking to transfer schools. As such, I agree whole heartedly that the bulk of those tours were virtually indistinguishable. They all stressed the importance of creating a sustainable campus, inclusive student organizations, and a state of the art library. They can be informative to a point, however I’ve always found that I gained the most insight about an institution when I walked around and made my own observations free from any attempts at indoctrination. College tours are in desperate need of a reboot and I think separating students from parents is a wonderful idea.

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  10. Nina Vasiljevic

    I absolutely agree that each school should create an environment in which students and parents will feel comfortable with asking questions. Showing superficial things and highlighting only the positive is somewhat necessary to get new students, but can also be perceived as school’s attempt to hide some other aspects that are not so developed. So, I think that it is necessary to encourage the free exchange of ideas and questions, because it will create a trusting bond between potential new students and the school.

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  11. jhasten1

    It’s hard for me to make a comment and share my opinion about campus tours, because I’ve never been on one. I do believe students should be trained in order to make the campus look professional and academically rewarding. I do believe recruiting students is the prior goal. But what type of potential students do you think will be attracted by a student tour guide that isn’t trained. There should be a balance of professionalism and individual character at a job like this and college administrators that find university or college students should be updated with the times and understand what is “cool” in order to find a middle balance.

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  12. Kendall Berman

    I do tend to agree that college tours do seem to be superficial and only highlight the positives. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, and it actually gives schools a fair comparison since you’re getting the same information from every school. But I do think schools should be more creative. I think there is a small effort coming forth since now there are over night stays in the dorms and things of that nature. After hours is very important because personally I care more about that than what time the cafeteria opens. At “openhouse” at Pace University in N.Y.C. they had a separate room for parents and students. It was very disorganized but granted they were able to share more information because there were two separate rooms and one was with the Dean. Regardless I feel a big part of pr is the ability to think creatively and outside the box. I do think we need to be able to think outside the box to make college visits much more informative, enjoyable and real-student life oriented.

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  13. ainsleyrufer

    Allowing untrained students to lead the tours doesn’t seem like such a great idea, but colleges should definitely strive to build more creative campus demonstrations than is the norm. When I was hunting down colleges three years ago, I would stick with the tour for about 10 minutes before finally rolling my eyes enough to tug my parents away and explore campus on my own. Most college tours feature the same information anyone could read off the university website – there’s no need to travel long distances to hear about library hours or look at the dining hall menu. If a potential student is interested enough to travel to a school to check it out in person, colleges should be prepared to give them a more interesting tour and give them a real idea of life on campus. Nobody cares about the statue in front of the student center – they want to know how crowded the Starbucks gets and where they can cram before a test with friends.

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  14. russellrothenberg

    When I went on my college tour for one of the school’s, my tour guide really focused on the positive aspects of going to that school. They kept talking about how its the perfect place to be and that they’re no problems with that place. I guess when you think about it they are trying to highlight the best parts about the school thats good for the student and the parent. If the student and parent both agree with the location then I guess the PR team did their job correctly.

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  15. Geena Pandolfi

    I think that the college tours are a little superficial, however, students as well as parents have to get to know their potential school from all angles. I think as an incoming freshmen, you have more questions about what the school is really like, such as the nightlife and activities to do while not in class. I think people would get a more honest tour if they did a separate one for parents and students, so the students can get a real feel for the campus and campus life. Parents also need their own time with the tour because they are usually the ones paying for it, they might have questions that could sway their decision on to invest in the school or not.

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  16. kimberlymuoio

    I definitely agree that there should be separate tours for parents and students. Parents and students are both looking at different aspects of colleges. It also only seems right to display all the positives of a university. Colleges are very competitive nowadays and displaying the most positive things they have to offer gives them a leg up on the competition.

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  17. tatayanayomary

    I agree 100 percent with this post. I feel that schools highlight superficial things about themselves such as Greek life and amenities that the school offers to play upon the students wishes. I think that n college tours it is important for prospective students to speak to current students to get a true feel of what the school is about.

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  18. Kayla Marzo

    I completely agree with Mark Fuchs. I’ve been on numerous college tours and they are all very informal meetings with a huge group of people that only highlight the things students and parents want to hear. I believe that students and parents should get separate tours because it would be much more beneficial.

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  19. Catherine Benny

    I can see where Fuchs is coming from and I think this is exactly what I experienced on my Hofstra tour two years ago. I got to look at the services that would be offered to me within the specific school I would be attending. I think regular “vanilla” college tours, as Fuchs describes them, tend to make perspective students and parents either feel completely lost or like they’re getting the usual scripted spiel. Personalized tours for a specific school, or even just using smaller tour groups, help students visualize daily life on campus which can help them make a decision. Tours are generally a useful tool, but to be completely effective they have to be used correctly.

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  20. Katherine Hammer

    I agree with Fuchs. I think that most schools focus on the superficial aspects, which is not always what a student wants to hear. They want someone to be honest with them, and know what they will experience if they attend that school for four years. On every college tour, you hear similar things, which takes away from the true greatness of a campus. While yes, these tours by trained students is good public relations, incoming students want to know more about the campus that will keep them wanting to be there. I agree that having separate tours for parents and in coming students will help those people who are shy to ask questions, to open up about them. I think that having untrained tours takes a risky route, for there is still a certain way to promote a school. I think what it comes down to is to show people more than just the superficial, and every campus should have an environment where the student and parent feels comfortable. I think then, that will exceed excellent public relations of a school.

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  21. Kim Gray

    Professor Fuchs does make excellent points because it is important for prospective students and parents to ask the right questions and receive the best answers. College or University yours should highlight the reality of what goes on in college so the potential students can have some insight of what they are getting into. However, there isn’t anything wrong with highlighting the best attributes in the college or university. You obviously want the prospective students to come to the school so what better way to do it.

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  22. Avalon Bohunicky

    It is crucial for colleges and universities to develop effective, enticing and clear public relations and marketing campaigns. They can only function if they have students enroll in their institution, so it is their responsibility to work on presenting themselves on paper, online and in person. Based on my experiences, many college tours tended to be rather awkward or uncomfortable. Colleges tend to discuss just the basics of their university and avoid the real questions that potential students want to know. It is great that tour guides boast about the features of the university, but they need to give insight about what it is like to be a student there. I greatly enjoyed my tour at Syracuse University. During the information session, there was a time where high school students and their parents were separated from each other. The students in the tour were brought into a room with a Syracuse student, where they were allowed to ask him any questions with no limits. It gave the group a better idea of what it was really like to be a Syracuse student. I think that more colleges should use this strategy so that high school students can leave their tour with a better idea of what going to the college would be like.

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  23. Christine W.

    Most colleges keep it traditional with students of the university giving tours to parents and prospective students at the time. However, when I was looking for a college, my parents and I were looking for different things. I honestly was looking for a diverse environment where I could grow and interact with others while pursuing my goals. My parents wanted a great institution that would offer me financial help and give me the skills I needed to be successful after graduation. I must say the college tours I went on didn’t show me the things I was most interested in. I think more schools should break away from the traditional tour with night tours and separate tours for parents and students. This will help each party see the school in the light the school wants them to see it in. Creating different tours for different audiences would make for better PR because the school can concentrate on the things each group would like to see the most.

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  24. Kristin Neuman

    I definitely see where Professor Fuchs is coming from with his recommendations for “reviving” college tours. I think tours should be real and showcase all aspects of a college, not just the superficial positives. Of course the library hours and environmental consciousness of a school may be important to a prospective student, but they want to know more. They don’t want to hear the same tour from every school they visit. These tours are good PR, and are often the deciding factor in whether or not a student is going to choose a specific school. I think this makes it even more important for the tour to offer as much to the student as possible. While I do agree that a tour given by a random, untrained student would not have the best outcome, I do believe that the students giving the tours should not be as well-rehearsed as they are. It’s important that these tour guides know what they should, but they should appear genuine, not that they’re just reading a script.

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  25. Francesco Vivacqua

    Professor Fuchs’ ideas are food for thought, but I believe it is wrong. I think the way schools give tour, highlighting the positives, is the best way to attract new students. It is done this way, because it is effective. Professor Fuchs concept might not work as well as he lays it out, simply because it is inefficient and loose (less organization). I understand why random student guide tours are bad, because guides need to be enthusiastic and speak well of the school, which not all students do. That is all I have to say on this matter.

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  26. Mike Iadevaia

    First impressions are the most important ones. When a college is trying to persuade prospective students to come to its school, appearances is always handled first. And rightfully so because a student is more inclined to go to a school with a beautiful landscape and immaculate buildings. However, looks can be deceiving. That is why these incoming students should be given other perspectives from all groups on campus, such as students and faculty. Although it can’t be guaranteed that every student will give a glowing review, school administrators shouldn’t be afraid to use current students to give them insight. If the school works to keep their current students happy, everyone wins.

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  27. Devon Hambrecht

    Although i never personally went on a college tour before, i do believe there should be an open and honest air to the conversation at one. Visitors should be able to ask as many questions as possible with full responses. A guide should definitely know what they are talking about in order for the potential student and guardians to gain as much information as possible, considering if i was a guide, i would not be very knowledgable about all of the schools at Hofstra. The night-life i believe is more of a personal preference, some potential student may not be interested at all in that aspect. I think every college should focus on their attributes but should also be willing to answer any question that comes there way in an honest manner. This is the aspect in which Fuch’s is correct, and i am sure every college open house could do some revamping.

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  28. Yejide Collman

    I never went on a college or university tour but I know that it is an important way for universities to peak the interest of perspective students especially when they are deciding between different university. I disagree with Fuchs I think the group tours are helpful because it provides the best impression of the school and gives other student an idea of the types of students who are interested in applying to a school. Last impressions, I believe should be the purpose of the tours. A university has the right to project the image that they would like to present no less than someone wants to give a good first impression.

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  29. marissakopech

    I agree with the majority of Fuchs’ suggestions for colleges, especially at this crucial time for my younger brother who is now beginning to look at universities himself. He is a rising senior in high school and has seen over 20 colleges with me and family when I began my journey nearly three years ago. He knows the ins and outs of colleges and understands what they should and should not promote. The best college tours I was taken on were interactive and with students who truly loved the school for everything that it was. I was drawn into both Hofstra and another school, LaSalle University, because of the students that gave tours and their brutal honesty. Honesty is key when it comes to universities. If a university has a flaw, admit it but turn it into a positive that promotes changes occurring within the university. For example, off-campus Hofstra has a negative reputation and any parent has a right to be concerned with the safety of their child. A tour guide should admit that in the past Hofstra has had problems off-campus but is now taking charge of the issue by offering a night shuttle that picks students up on and off campus for safe traveling.

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  30. Candace Brown

    I completely agree with Fuchs. If you’re looking at a college tour as a commercial for the university, you don’t want the cliche, vague and insincere commercial. What you want is a natural flow of information, experiences and details that will invite the potential student to apply and attend your university. At Hofstra the RAs lead tours of residence halls. Through these specific tours, the parents and potential students are able to talk to real people about their experiences. We aren’t monitored or directly supervised so the information we share is real, honest and personable. In a sense, you want your tours to be like unscripted testimonials, not like an overproduced infomercial.

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  31. jmcpha1

    In my personal experience, college tours were always draining and boring. I would applaud any way in which a school would try to spice things up, including random untrained tour guides. I felt that there were things the tours tried to gloss over by not addressing or not showing. And while PR tries to put a client’s best foot forward, I feel that deliberately avoiding something is a form of spin. Also, setting yourself apart in the realm of colleges where students are trying to pick between 2 to 5 colleges is a good idea, so providing a safe, fun, carefree place where students can see the “real” college would probably be good PR for a school.

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  32. Laura Schioppi

    Every school should provide a unique experience that will entice incoming students. My college made the students stay and dorm at the school for three days where we met other potential students, students already attending the school, they provided events and information of what will be featured at the college and useful educational tools for our future. This unique experience helped me and made my decision easier that my college was the right choice because they were helpful and showed that they cared about the students. It’s important to answer all questions that parents and students may have in order to have a successful university.

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  33. yannaloren89

    I think those ideas are great. Conducting a night tour of a college campus is something I never thought of. Would the families visiting from out of town and from other states have the opportunity to tour a campus at night? During my enrollment at Hofstra University, I noticed Hofstra promoting good PR through their Admitted Student Days. especially this Spring semester. The school has done a great job with making the prospective students feel comfortable. Faculty and staff from different offices on the campus attend the event along with current students from different academic departments, student organization clubs such as Student Government, Hofstra athletics team, Hofstra dance team, etc. They attend the Admitted Student Days to answer any questions prospective students and parents might have about the school. The enrolled students also have their dorm rooms ready for display for the families to view. I think Hofstra is doing a great job with giving tours to the prospective families that come to visit campus.

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  34. Sydney Myers

    I think it’s hard to group every 17 and 18 year old in America under one category. Sure, a tour might work for a few of them but how many are actually basing their college decisions on a tour, or great library hours. Eight years ago, when I made the initial decision to attend Indiana University, my 17 year old self did not take tours or anything into consideration. I followed my gut and what felt right. Also, I wanted a pretty campus but that is besides the point. Honestly, the best selling point schools have is their students. Talking to students that attend the university, not the student giving the tour, give the best potential advice and the real deal. Every high schooler is different so it’s hard to cater to everyone. I think if schools just said it like it is, without the song and dance, students would be better informed and perhaps have better gut feelings like I did.

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  35. Hector Bonilla

    Many organizations stick with the superficial because it’s essentially the easy way out and they believe it’s a proven technique for them, whether it is or not. And it gets worse the more tentative their position as they become unwilling to risk what few resources they have on something new. In terms of college tours it’s important to note, with the number of colleges saturating the nation, that unless you’re an Ive League you need to find something to make you stand out. I picked my undergrad partially because of a tour. I was part of a college prep summer group in high school of which I was one of a dozen that had family that went to college and one of maybe three of which that included both my parents. The vast majority of these kids had no experience with a higher academic environment. Four tours stuck out for me: Princeton, Columbia, Rutgers, and the College of New Jersey. The first two are memorable because the tour guides sucked. They clearly had never done it before and they relied on the easiest promotional points to fall back on. As a result most of the group was unimpressed with Columbia, and marginally impressed with Princeton because the incompetent guide told us there were no requirements to apply. In contrast the Rutgers and TCNJ guides engaged us on a personal level and spoke extensively on their respective colleges from the point of view of a student.

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  36. Chris Swenson

    With the exception of random, untrained student tours, the suggests that Fuchs recommends are, in my opinion, really great ways to improve school tours, for any schools that aren’t already doing these things. I think that this is a good example of how sometimes, when something comes off as too ‘polished,’ it loses credibility.

    It’s really hard to get a true sense of a school from tours and visits before you’re actually a student. Speaking as someone who transferred schools because I had felt that the school I went to my first semester of college wasn’t the environment I imagined it to be, it’s just difficult to summarize something as involved as the ‘college experience,’ However, I don’t think it’s wrong that schools try to emphasize their best qualities and stress some of the more superficial positives. The superficial positives are the qualities that are the easily to explain, and the easiest to compare among schools. Otherwise, I think the best thing that schools can do is allow students to visit and be paired with a student for a night/weekend.

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  37. Dan Savarino

    I can say from my personal experience, I try to tell prospective students the truth when they come visit open houses. When passing through WRHU, I have a duty as station manager to talk the place up. But for me, it’s not because I have to, it’s because it is how I truly feel. I’m not trained in any way to give tours, and I’m not a pride guide at Hofstra. The feedback I have gotten in the past, it is the excitement I bring to those prospective candidates. However, I will tell them the flaws of the university, as I see it. It is only fair for someone who is planning on spending thousands of dollars to know how a regular student feels, and what a normal day is really like. This is what needs to happen, by focusing on just the positives a few will fall for it, but others will question how truthful it is. You don’t want to “spin” this situation, give recruits a feel as to what they’re actually going to be apart of.

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  38. Olga Varnavskaya

    I agree with Marek Fuchs, on most points, except his idea to use untrained random students as guides. Some students just are not able to speak publicly, period.
    Most of American universities look pretty similar – some of them are smaller, some are bigger. And in April – May, when everything is in blossom, they all look awesome. I remember my excitement when I first saw American college in Pennsylvania. That was Juniata College where I was teaching Russian. Then as a potential student I visited University of Nevada, Las Vegas, NV. I had a tour as a tourist around Harvard University, MA. I saw University at Albany, NY, Binghamton University, NY, and Queens College, NY. When I first visited Hofstra, I just ascertained once again that American universities look great and more or less kind of the same. So to really stand out colleges and universities need to try some of the advice that Fuchs suggests. That may really make a difference and increase their attractiveness for potential students and their parents.
    The classical tours that Fuchs calls ineffective can still be good for foreign students who came from completely different backgrounds and are not familiar with American colleges or universities. I am not sure though how may of them can come from abroad just to visit a potential university…

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  39. ALTernate Ears

    I honestly think there is nothing wrong with the traditional way of touring or highlighting all of the positives the school comes with. When touring with Hofstra, I felt they did a good job of separating students by their wants/needs/interests. You had a choice of the “schools” you wanted to see, dorms you were interested, etc. Understandably, it would be awesome to receive a one-on-one tour, but I don’t think it is necessary. Students are able to do their own research on schools, ask people who may have went there, Google it, set up personal appointments as an “admitted students”, etc. Touring with large groups and fellow parents raises questions and concerns that may not come up if it were more personal. I think the point of a tour is to sell the school, inform the students and parents, and open doors for students to WANT to learn more.

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  40. LaChele Prophet

    Yeah some schools give the same type of tours. When I went to school in N.C. there were separate tours and workshops for parents and students which I thought was great because I got to mingle with some of the people I would be on campus with and without my parents hovering over me. I like the night tours idea because it would be good to see what the night life is like. Feeling comfortable with the environment of the school and seeing what goes on makes it easy for people to ask questions because if you really want to go to that school and like what you see you should ask questions. I think the tours should be spiced up in some ways because they tend to get boring. One of my friends did a buddy tour at the school she went to. She stayed on campus for the week with a student who already attended the school and had the major she was considering. She loved it because she was able to get a feel of the school before deciding on going there.

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  41. Brittany Witter

    I agree that some, well most, school give the same tour every time. I think some variety would be beneficial to many universities. My undergrad university does separate tours for parents and students and I think it was better that way for many reasons. Students asked the questions they cared about and really wanted to know without worrying about their parents reaction. And they also got to know each other a little bit and be social with new people.

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  42. Marisa

    Colleges and universities put more effort into getting students to come than to keep their students happy during their time there. But without doing this, no one would come. A lot of people that I know at Hofstra came because they just kept getting mail from Hofstra even if they hadnt heard of the school previously. When I visited the school, I went on the tour and appreciated the explanation of dining plans and the library, but I agree that colleges could provide a more comfortable environment for questions. I liked touring with my parents because they asked the important questions that I wanted to know as well, but I didn’t necessarily feel comfortable asking about the more social aspects of the school. I think that more students of differing backgrounds should give tours rather than the cut and dry trained your guides, but they definitely shouldn’t be untrained. Maybe there should be a student-created brochure about night-life and honest descriptions of the social aspects of the school.

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